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  SUSD Superintendent

Superintendent

May 2017

Dear Scottsdale Unified School District Family,

It is hard to believe how this school year has flown by!  However, here we are, just two weeks away from graduating our 2,000 seniors who comprise the SUSD Class of 2017.  It is a time of great excitement for these students and their families, and we look forward to celebrating with them on May 25.  Well done, Arcadia, Chaparral, Coronado, Desert Mountain and Saguaro seniors!

While all of our students are busy putting the final changes on book reports, projects and term papers, our Governing Board has continued to tackle longstanding District issues.  These initiatives may differ from past SUSD practice, but they always – always – have their root in doing what is best for SUSD students.

One of the initiatives commits to raising teacher pay.  The Governing Board decided not to wait to see what the Arizona Legislature and Governor would do with education funding in next year’s state budget and found the resources to provide at least a 2% salary increase for teachers next school year.  Some tough District staffing decisions had to be made in order to achieve that, but our teachers need to know that we think they are worth it. 

It doesn’t stop there. The Board has mapped out a plan to raise teacher pay by 10% over a four-year period and increase the annual salary of a starting teacher to $40,000 within five years.  As an additional investment in our teachers, the Board approved adding three professional development days for them next school year. 

At the beginning of the year, I spoke about ‘rising up.’  I believe you have done this day after day.  We rely on teachers to bring their very best to their students and classrooms every day.  They are the ones who are out on the front lines every day for us.  We are extremely grateful for everything they do, and not just during this week’s national Teacher Appreciation Week.  If you have the chance before school lets out for the year, please thank your students’ teachers the next time you see them!

We continue to move ahead with school improvements and construction projects made possible by the passage of the 2016 bond and override.  We expect to break ground at Hopi Elementary this summer and begin construction of new buildings at Cheyenne Traditional, as well.  You can find out where all of our current projects stand at bond.susd.org.  I also encourage you to sign up for the District’s weekly bond project updates at http://bit.ly/2q6uEKS.

Pima Elementary School in the Coronado Learning Community will be the third school to be re-built.  When it reopens in August 2018, it will be called ‘Pima Traditional School,’ becoming the ‘school of choice’ for the southern part of SUSD. The transition to a traditional teaching and learning model will be nearly seamless, as Pima already embraces much of the traditional classroom philosophy.

While we’re busy building new schools, our students, teachers and principals are out there making us proud.  There are many, many awards and recognitions to celebrate – too many to mention them all, but here are some highlights:

  • Congratulations to Ava Aguirre of Pueblo Elementary, whose essay on Alcatraz won the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s American History Contest.
  • Two of our outstanding principals have received honors recently from national and state organizations: 
    • Christine Bonow has been named to the 2017 Class of National Distinguished Principals by the National Association of Elementary School Principals for her extraordinary passion, dedication and contribution to her Redfield Elementary School, its students and community.
    • Kristin Kinghorn of Desert Canyon Elementary School has been named the Arizona School Administrators’ Elementary Principal Rookie of the Year award.  The ASA sees what we see:  a leader who acts to produce a positive climate and high morale among students, staff and colleagues, and who involves the Desert Canyon community in the life of the school and school district. 
  • Last week, Cherokee Elementary School became Arizona’s first Literary Landmark™.  Nominated by the Arizona State Library, Cherokee joins the list of landmarks nationwide that are the homes of famous writers, libraries, museum collections, literary scenes and, now, schools.  Local author Barbara Park, who passed away in 2013, was inspired to kick off her best-selling Junie B. Jones book series in the 1990s after seeing a young Cherokee student walking home after missing the school bus. 
  • The Arizona Educational Foundation has once again bestowed its coveted A+ School of Excellence awards on Tavan and Cherokee Elementary schools.  The A+ School of Excellence program celebrates outstanding schools throughout Arizona and calls attention to the positive stories and successes that take place in public schools.  Congratulations to principals Margaret Serna and Walt Chantler, their teachers, staffs, students and communities!
  • The Copper Ridge School National Junior Honor Society recently raised more than $3,000 selling t-shirts to benefit Global Rescue Project, a Scottsdale-based foundation that helps providesafety shelter, food and education to children liberated from slavery in Ghana, Africa.
  • Cocopah Middle School science teacher Tracey Dodrill is one of five U.S educators to receive the 2017 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation Educator Achievement Award.  Her ongoing efforts to encourage Cocopah students to pursue STEM education and careers brought her this prestigious national recognition.
  • Congratulations to Mohave Middle School’s Orchestra, Band and 8th grade Choir for bringing home top honors from Disneyland’s ‘Music in the Parks’ competition last month.  The 7th grade Choir and Metro Notes choral groups placed second!
  • I am extremely proud to announce our six National Merit Scholars for 2017.  They are:
  • Cameron Whyte, Saguaro High School
  • Kendrick Nguyen and Robin Kuo, Chaparral High School
  • Nicholas Basch, Pranav Rudra and Aakanksha Saxena, Desert Mountain High School

Nicholas won the Nationwide Foundation Scholarship; the others will receive $2,500 from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.  These SUSD students will continue to represent us well as they head off to college and into the world.  Two more National Merit announcements are set for this summer.

  • More senior accolades:  Congratulations (again!) to Cameron Whyte, Saguaro High School, and Camryn Lizik and Keaton McDonald, Arcadia High School, for being named to the 2017 class of Flinn Foundation Scholarship recipients.  This highly competitive, merit-based award for undergraduate study at an Arizona public university covers the cost of tuition, room and board, two study-abroad experiences and an off-campus internship. All three students will attend the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State in the fall.  No other school district in Arizona has as many Flinn recipients this year as we do! 
  • Desert Mountain senior Peter Rossi received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.
  • The Saguaro High School Orchestra had a very successful trip to the recent Seattle Heritage Festival, receiving a Gold Superior rating with distinction and placing first in the competition.  The Advanced Concert group snagged a silver Excellent rating and placed third.  Cellist Cameron Whyte beat out 500 students to take the Maestro Award for his solo in the Holberg Suite.
  • Chaparral’s Kendrick Nguyen and Levi Schulman took first place in the Arizona Interscholastic Association speech and debate tournament.  Christina Wang and Kaitlyn Alvarez placed first in public forum debate at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, qualifying them for Nationals in Birmingham, Alabama next month.
  • The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the National Football Foundation named Saguaro High School’s Corey Stephens its 2017 Scholar Athlete of the Year.  Corey takes his considerable academic and athletic talents to Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and the Sun Devils’ offensive line in the fall.
  • The girls’ tennis teams from Arcadia and Desert Mountain won their respective division’s AIA state titles last weekend.  The Chaparral girls doubles team of Grace Koester and Erin Hannen are also state champions, as is the Arcadia doubles team of Katie Reed and Jill Rasmussen, and Desert Mountain’s Cameron Krimbill was a finalist in the Division 1 state singles championship.  Congratulations, also, to Desert Mountain sophomore Josie Frazier and junior Max Geiger for being named to the United States Tennis Association’s Junior Leadership Team for the southwestern U.S.  They are among 32 players named nationwide, and Desert Mountain is the only high school in the country to have two student athletes selected.

Lastly, I want to thank the Scottsdale Charros for their ongoing dedication to SUSD and to its teachers and students.  Their recent support of the Chaparral and Desert Mountain robotics teams, enabling them to travel to Houston, Texas for a world competition; their commitment to the Coronado Success Initiative; and their desire to celebrate top teachers and students cannot be, and is not, taken for granted.  We are so pleased to have such a dedicated community partner. 

On behalf of the Scottsdale Unified School District, may I extend best wishes to the Class of 2017.  We hope you will always remember your days at SUSD fondly and know that we did our very best to prepare you for wonderful and rewarding lives. 

I also want to thank the SUSD community of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators for an outstanding school year.  Keep those learning opportunities going this summer, and we will see you on August 7!

Dr. A. Denise Birdwell

Superintendent